Disappointed, depressed, distressed?

My attention was drawn to a blog (HT Rob Petrini ) by 9marks ‘Don’t make your pastor a statistic’ which suggested the majority of US Pastors were not content in their roles:

70% feel underpaid

70% fight depression

50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job

90% work between 55-75 hours a week.

Which contrasts with a survey done by the Baptist Ministers’ Journal in England that suggests the majority of Baptist ministers here feel positive about their role; so why the big difference? And which picture is more accurate?

First, it should be pointed out that the US and the UK are different and while there are many similarities, results from one country don’t necessarily transfer to another. Second, the research published by the Schaeffer Institute (who have a particular bias) is more nuanced than the headlines and many of the respondents led churches which are independant and not part of denominational groupings; though it still paints a depressing picture.

This doesn’t mean the picture in the UK is all good; the BMJ survey seems weighted towards those who have survived ministry and by using ‘tend to agree’ as one of the answer options may well have embedded an English desire not to complain into the results. A few years ago the Evangelical Alliance did a report (28% of respondents were Baptists) which suggested that more than half had considered leaving ministry (the others were probably lying!), 38% feel overwhelmed by pastoral demands and a high proportion feel too involved in management and administration.

In my experience although a significant number of UK ministers are not happy the majority feel content. While there are things to moan about, generally people signed up to a vocation that calls for sacrifice and feel that in spite of the hard work, long hours and modest remuneration they are pleased to be doing what they do.  

For me it depends on which day of the week you ask the questions. I’m very fortunate to be in a church where the stipend is more than the BUGB’s standard but I’m also aware that ministry is very draining, taking a toll on me (emotionally, spiritually and physically) and I would be telling lies if I said that I hadn’t had days when I felt like jacking it all in!

All of which suggests that English Baptist life is doing something right. The processes for ministerial formation and ongoing ministerial support, whilst not perfect, are working.

Yet it seems to me that there are three specific issues which deserve our attention. 

1. Many of the problems between churches and ministers arise because of mis-matched expectations. In a changing church culture with a growing diversity of churches we will need to ensure that more of the unspoken expectations are recognised and articulated.

2. While English Baptists have got better at providing support my suspicion is underneath many ministers are sacrificing personal relationships, spiritual health and emotional wellbeing; the results of which vulnerability may not be obvious now but will be in another decade. Ministers who over function are in nobody's long term interest.

3. The biggest danger, as William Willimon said, is not that we might ‘burn out’ but that we might ‘black out’, that is lose consciousness of why we are here and who we are called to be for Christ and his Church. But these two are more interconnected than we sometimes realise

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